NASA’s PUFFER Bots Are the Cutest Little Origami-Inspired Planet Explorers

Exploring other planets in our solar system is obviously a daunting and dangerous task that will require only the bravest souls we can muster here on Earth. But first, before we dispatch any real-life Mark Watneys, we need to send in the bots!  NASA’s “PUFFER” bots to be specific, which are cute little (relatively) disposable and foldable explorers that will scout out unexplored terrain on other planets.

Via Laughing Squid, The PUFFERs (PUFFER is an acronym for Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robots) show off their array of robo-yoga poses in the above and below clips. Watch as the PUFFER demonstrates its Hermes-from-Futurama-like mastery of the limbo, which actually seems to be the only trick that the tiny explorer-bot has mastered. But the one simple trick is not so simple, and involves a surprisingly amount of complexity.

The PUFFERs are a collaborative effort between NASA, the Distant Focus Corporation, and the University of California at Berkeley, with the latter member of the team bringing a decade of origami-robot design research to the table. (Although NASA should get in touch with Tadashi Mori–that man is the Yoda of origami.)

Perhaps the most technologically astounding part of the PUFFER project is the fact that the explorer-bots utilize “folding printed circuit boards to integrate the robot’s electronics directly into [its] folding structure.” The PUFFERs will also carry “unique folded optic microscope[s]” that will work using reflective mirrors rather than refractive lenses in order to allow the microscopes to be folded and compacted more tightly.

Ultimately, the robots will be released from their “parent” vehicle on a planet like Mars, and will greatly increase the amount of surface area that can be explored. Many small things that can unceasingly overcome obstacles make for a great way to get a sense for the lay of the land—we all learned that from Minority Report, right?

What do you think about these PUFFERs? Are they cute little Martian-bots or terrifying archetypes for electronic spiders that can and will crawl into your nose?! Let us know in the comments below!

Images: NASA

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